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Hulu Doubles Down on Theatrical Releases with New IFC Films Output Deal

Hulu and IFC were already in business on documentaries; now the platform will house many of its narrative films.

Hulu The Hulu logo on a window at the Milk Studios space in New York. Hulu will offer a live-streaming service in 2017 that will offer a mix of cable and broadcast programming as well as news, sports and events. That pits the streaming service against similar offerings from Sling TV and PlayStation Vue as more and more Americans shift to watching TV onlineHulu Live Streaming, New York, USA

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Two years after Hulu announced that it would exclusively stream all documentaries from IFC Films, IFC Midnight, and Sundance Selects after they leave theaters, the agreement has been expanded to include narrative films released by those distributors. Subscribers will begin benefitting from the multi-year deal this summer, with the arrival of titles like “Love After Love” and Claire Denis’s “Let the Sunshine In,” which won a Director’s Fortnight prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

“This is the last piece of the puzzle,” Lisa Holme, Hulu’s VP of content acquisitions, told IndieWire. Holme said the companies signed the paperwork last year, but saved the announcement until midway through the Sundance Film Festival, when IFC Films, IFC Midnight, and Sundance Selects are in acquisition mode.

Hulu was founded as a joint venture between NBC Universal and former 21st Century Fox owner News Corporation in 2008. (As Fox’s new owner, Disney will assume control of its stake.) “Because we were founded by a TV network 10 years ago, we started as a service whose strength and primary business really was television,” said Holme. But in recent years, Hulu subscribers have made it clear that “they want more, and better, and more recent movies… That has become really an expectation that they have of Hulu as a broad, popular streaming service.”

Holme said that while Hulu subscribers once focused on TV content, more have gravitated to film. Now the majority of Hulu subscribers take advantage of both its film and TV offerings. On the catalog side, Hulu also does business with all major studios.

Where Netflix prefers to purchase movies as “Netflix Presents,” reserving any theatrical release for only awards-seeking titles, Hulu still puts a priority on the big screen. The only films Hulu actually owns outright are its original documentaries, like “Becoming Bond” (2017).

“We’ve thought it very, very important to have a theatrical release, to have reviewers writing about movies, to have word of mouth spread about a movie that you saw in theaters this weekend, so that by the time a film shows up on Hulu, people know what it is, they’re aware of it,” said Holme. “There’s brand value that has been imbued in that movie through all of the ways that it has been marketed and made available to [audiences] ahead of its premiere on streaming.”

Holme also said Hulu prefers the output model for the business partnerships it provides. “We like the idea of getting into business with folks like IFC, Neon, Annapurna, and Magnolia, whose taste we trust,” she said. “It’s a great, scalable way for us to get films onto Hulu — with a steady, consistent drumbeat — that we think are going to be a good fit for our audience.”

Hulu currently has 17 million U.S. subscribers. While Hulu will be home to the largest collection of IFC Films, the latter also has an output deal with Showtime, established in 2015 and active through 2021.

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